Friday, May 13, 2022

Firestarter, Remade by Blumhouse

Arguably, it is more of a thriller with sf elements than a horror story, but the premise is pretty horrifying for parents. Charlie McGee did not just inherit a resemblance to her parents. She also has their “shine.” That was the whole idea for the shadowy government contractor DSI (aren’t they always shadowy), when they experimented on Andy McGee and his wife Vicky Tomlinson-McGee. Little Charlie’s resulting powers are getting harder for her to keep in check at the start of Keith Thomas’s Blumhouse-produced remake of Firestarter, which opens today (and starts streaming on Peacock).

The McGees know their daughter could be so dangerously powerful, she could never have a normal life if DSI and the “deep state” ever got their hands on her. They live under assumed names and completely off the net, but bullied Charlie is starting to attract unwanted attention, especially when her temper ignites real fires.

Captain Hollister knows she is still out there and suspects the potential of her developing X-Men-like abilities. Hollister also has just the man to track down the McGees. John Rainbird understands them all too well. He too has the power to get inside people’s heads, perhaps even better than Tomlinson-McGee and can withstand McGee’s power to “push” mental images and suggestions, at least to an extent. Unfortunately, that “pushing” is starting to take a toll on McGee’s health.

Scott Teems’ screenplay adaptation of Stephen King’s novel very much follows the structure of the 1984 film, which was pretty faithful to the book. It definitely leans into the father-daughter relationship, because that is the whole point of the story (in all its incarnations). However, the family-versus-agents conflict is familiar, to the point of staleness. Horror fans might know John Carpenter was originally in-line to direct the ’84 film, but he lost the gig when
The Thing bombed (hard to believe, since it’s now regarded as a classic). Sadly, Blumhouse did not hire him to direct this time around, but he did contribute to the score. You can probably best hear his influence during the tense, confrontational third act.

Thomas is no Carpenter, but he keeps it pacy and wraps it up in an economical 94-minutes. Throughout it all, Zac Efron is definitely the star. You get McGee’s burning paternal protectiveness in every scene. The same is also true of Sydney Lemmon as Tomlinson. She has also some nice rapport with Efron—just less screen time. John Beasley helps humanize the story as Irv Manders, the farmer McGee and his daughter take shelter with. Michael Geyeyes portrays Rainbird as an intriguingly ambiguous anti-hero, but Gloria Reuben plays Hollister as a typical sinister government agent cliché.

The new
Firestarter is competent, but it doesn’t really scream a justification for remaking the previous film, beyond getting Carpenter involved in some fashion. It is okay, especially if you have Peacock (since the pandemic is apparently still going strong for NBCUniversal), but The Innocents is a better horror film opening this week (also featuring young thesps). Just okay, Firestarter is now playing nationwide (including the AMC Lincoln Square in New York) and streaming on Peacock.